If you haven't heard of kleicha, these Iraqi date cookies are a bit like fig Newtons but with a wonderfully aromatic cardamom undertone. And prettier, too, with their elegant spiral shape. They're addictively good!
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If you're a regular here, you might remember that I participated in a couple of virtual cookie exchanges last year, including an international cookie exchange where I shared brunkager, Danish Christmas cookies.
Well, this year we are doing it again and I am moving to another part of the world with these kleicha, Iraqi date cookies. I am so glad I did, as these are truly delicious. Think of them a bit like fig Newtons/fig rolls but filled with date that's infused with cardamon.
When would you eat kleicha?
Kleicha are about the most popular Iraqi date cookies. While they are typically eaten for Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, as well as Eid al-Adha they are also eaten for a range of celebrations.
If you're getting the family together whether it's for a wedding, birthday, or whatever else, you'll probably have kleicha. They would also be enjoyed at Christmas time amongst Iraqi Christians.
Personally I chose them because I love the flavors used in Middle Eastern dishes. There are lots of dates, nuts and fragrant spices, all of which I enjoy.
In fact, kleicha come in a few different versions that use other popular ingredients. You'll find them with nut fillings such as crushed walnuts and sugar or with coconut - these versions are more typically filled and folded over in half moon shapes.
Ways to adapt the ingredients
These spiral cookies are a little more on the healthy side as there is hardly any sugar in these (and in fact you could omit it so they are refined sugar free). The sweetness, instead, comes from the naturally sweet date filling.
The dough is maybe a little less healthy, but you can help it along a little, if you like. I have made these both with regular flour and wholewheat pastry flour and both work well, so feel free to choose as you prefer.
I kept with the butter that you typically find in the recipe below, but I have also made these with coconut oil in the past and that, too, works. By using coconut oil and a plant-based milk, you can make them vegan, too.
Traditionally the dough has nigella seeds in it or on top, giving nice bursts of color and flavor. However I didn't have any so I just used cardamom. I think you still get enough lovely flavor, though if you have nigella seeds, feel free to add some.
Tips for making Iraqi date cookies
While these are not that hard to make, there are a couple things to note when you make them (some are things I learnt from my earlier mistakes!):
- Make sure your date filling is a jam-like consistency so you can spread it easily. If it is thicker, some choose to roll it between plastic sheets and lay the layer on top, but I still find this works fine to spread.
- If you let the dough rise for more than 30 minutes, it will keep rising and so you'll get thicker cookies. That's not necessarily bad, but not really how they are intended to be.
- Roll the dough out on a silicone mat or parchment. This way, you can use it to help you roll up the dough, if needed.
- Dot the filling in small lumps over the dough so you can then spread from there rather than putting one big lump in the middle and expecting to spread it. You can also use the edge of a knife to help spread the filling.
- Cut slices with a serrated knife to try to avoid squashing it together too much. Wipe the knife between cuts to take off the excess date mixture.
- Finally, either cut them thicker, approx 1in/2.5cm thick and stand them up on the tray to bake or cut them a bit thinner and lay them flat. Some may fall over in cooking - don't worry, they will still taste delicious.
Don't let these points put you off, these spiral date cookies are not difficult to make and they are so tasty, they're really worth the little bit of effort to make them.
Traditionally they would be made in large batches but I have made a relatively small quantity here more for typical at-home consumption. Though that said, these cookies went pretty quickly in our house, and we're not huge cookie people.
Give these kleicha a try, and enjoy the wonderfully aromatic, sweet date filling wrapped in a tasty dough for yourself.
Try these other cookies from around the world:
- Persian walnut cookies (nan-e gerdui)
- Kolache cookies
- Pignoli cookies (Italian pine nut cookies)
- Melomakarona (Greek honey cookies)
- Plus get more snack recipes and Holiday recipes in the archives.
Tools to make these cookies
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
Kleicha (Iraqi date cookies)
For the dough
- 1 ⅓ cups all purpose flour plain flour (can also use wholewheat pastry flour)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dried instant yeast
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom (see notes below)
- 8 tablespoon butter melted
- ¼ cup milk
For the filling
- 1 cup pitted dates (see below)
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoon water (approx, see notes)
- Mix together the flour, salt, yeast, sugar and cardamom. Add the melted butter and mix until you get a rough paste
- Mix in the milk - it should become soft and smooth. Stir so that it is well incorporated then tip onto a surface and knead a couple minutes. It will feel a little greasy, but don't worry. Put the dough in a bowl, cover and leave to rest for approx 30min. This is just a short proof - you don't want it to double in size.
- Meanwhile, make the filling. Roughly chop the dates and put them in a small pan along with the cardamon and some water. Warm over a medium-low heat until the dates soften and break up. If it becomes smooth enough, just add the oil and warm a little more as you stir to combine but in most cases, it will be best to blend it. If you have an immersion blender, you can do this in the pan, otherwise transfer to a blender/small food processor, blend, then return to the pan and mix in the oil. To spread best, it's best to be gently warm.
- Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
- Lay a silicone mat or a layer of parchment on your work surface and line a baking sheet with a silicone cookie sheet or parchment.
- Tip the dough onto the lined work surface and roll the dough into around 11 inches square (28cm) or else a little narrower one way than the other but similar overall. Dab the date filling onto the top and spread all over the dough leaving a small strip without any on the two longer ends, if rectangular, or else two opposite edges.
- Roll from one of the ends that doesn't have filling to the edge and form a roll. Finish by having the other end on the bottom so it seals together, and you can roll it a little more to become smooth against the roll.
- Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the roll into slices, either approx 1in/2.5cm thick or thinner, as you prefer. You should get around 12 or so. Carefully transfer the slices to the baking sheet, standing on end and if need be, gently pressing down slightly to help them stand. You can also lay on their side if you prefer.
- If you like, brush the top with a little egg wash or milk to help them brown, and you can also sprinkle on a few nigella seeds if you have some. Bake for approx 15 - 20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Delicious served warm from the oven but also good room temperature.
Try these other international cookies:
- France: Palatable Pastime - Sablés
- Germany: Cindy's Recipes and Writing - Lebkuchen (Spiced Molasses Cookies)
- Greece: Cooking the Globe- Kourabiedes
- India: Love Is In My Tummy - Kal Kal
- Italy: An Italian In My Kitchen - Cranberry Almond Biscotti
- Italy: Culinary Adventures with Camilla - Ricciarelli
- Poland: A Day in the Life on the Farm - Rogaliki
- Serbia: Curious Cuisiniere - Vanilice (Little Filled Vanilla Cookies)